The positive COVID-19 test rate in Massachusetts has stood at 2.2% for five days, according to the latest Department of Public Health data, and Gov. Charlie Baker warned Tuesday that the state could be "forced to adjust our plans" if metrics warrant it.
He characterized the uptick from a low of 1.7% last month as "slight" and said his administration wasn't taking options off the table.
"That could mean gathering sizes could be reduced or we could make some of our business regulations more strict," Baker said. "Reopening and staying open is obviously a big part of the goal, but obviously, we can't do that if we don't have everybody's help to continue to move forward."
Medical experts have grown increasingly concerned about the direction of trends in the state, cautioning publicly that Massachusetts may not be able to sustain the current pace of returning to public activity while keeping the highly infectious virus at bay.
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Asked Tuesday how bad the outlook would need to get to prompt a further reduction of the limit or a new round of business limitations, Baker declined to set exact milestones.
He added that his team looks at a lot of elements before ordering next steps, and at one point, he said he did not want to "get into a hypothetical" discussion about potential decisions.
When Baker and his administration rolled out a phased reopening plan in May, they said at the time that they could revert to an earlier stage if the public health data showed dangerous levels of viral spread. Phase 3 of the state's reopening plan began July 6, including gyms, fitness centers, museums, movie theaters, casinos and performance venues.
Massachusetts is still not at the point of reversing course, but the positive test rate has been inching upward since mid-July and several clusters of new infections linked to social events prompted Baker to say last week he was exploring whether the current indoor gathering limit of 25 people or the current outdoor gathering limit of 100, based on the size of the venue, are both still viable.
Parties in particular have emerged as a source of concern among not just the Baker administration, but governors across the country seeing new cases emerge.
"The overwhelming majority of the people in Massachusetts have stayed true to all the things we talk about," the governor said. "But we've talked several times in some of our more recent press conferences about the fact that there has definitely been some slippage in certain circumstances and situations."
State public health officials reported 438 new cases of COVID-19 in Massachusetts on Tuesday and nine new deaths linked to the coronavirus, bringing the cumulative caseload here to 111,033 and the death toll to 8,436, or 8,657 with deaths among probable cases added in.
The 438 new cases in Tuesday's report came from 15,316 newly tested individuals, which works out to a positive test rate of 2.9%.